First Black Professor named Distinguished Research Professor

Howard Rambsy, professor of English, was recently granted the title of Distinguished Research Professor. Rambsy is the first Black professor to be given this title.


Rambsy said he remembers his beginnings at SIUE almost two decades ago, and remembers being where many students are right now.


“I got my undergrad at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, which is a [historically Black college/university]. I went to graduate school at Pennsylvania State University, and then I came here to teach African-American literature,” Rambsy said. “That was a long time ago, in the fall of 2003.”


There were several Black authors that Rambsy said he frequently teaches in his courses, including Toni Morrison, Colson Whitehead, Tyehimba Jess and Ta-Nehisi Coates. But Rambsy said he enjoys teaching his other courses too, which focus on less traditional forms of media.


“When I first started, I covered poetry and novels, and I still do that. But I started looking at freestyle rap occasionally, and I have a recurring class on diversity in comic books. It's an [interdisciplinary studies] course and fairly new … I’ve enjoyed it,” Rambsy said.


Rambsy said the stream of consciousness associated with freestyle rap is what inspired him to create a course regarding it. 


“We teach about rap and freestyle rap, but then we ask what it means to be free of structures and create a stream of thoughts, and make it artistic and I enjoy that kind of thing,” Rambsy said. “In the comics class, we discuss the changes over time to a culture.” 


Rambsy said a good example of this concept of those changes is the Marvel character Black Panther.


“We would be talking about comic book Black Panther, but that immediately leads into the movie character and how movies and comics are focusing more on diversity and it becomes something larger,” Rambsy said.  “People have all sorts of knowledge about those cultures before the class, which makes it interesting to see what everyone has in the start.”


According to Rambsy, these less traditional formats lend themselves well to something he always wants to teach in his classes — how to informally discuss media in an informed way.


“In the process of becoming a Distinguished Research Professor, I had to write a few books and conduct some formal research. When you’re around your friends, talking about movies and streaming shows, that’s a different type of evaluation,” Rambsy said. “That’s something I like to teach about. I think we all watch movies and listen to music, so I try to assist students in being better equipped to have those informal conversations, but in an intelligent way.”


When not researching, discussing or teaching African-American literature, Rambsy also serves as the advisor to the Black Student Union at SIUE, which held a protest on Jan. 29.


“I work with the group a lot, and if you’ve been following the group, we've been working a lot this past week,” Rambsy said.”The organization has always been very active. I like to say that they’ve been better than active, they are responsive. They respond to what students on campus are concerned about and what they want done.”


Rambsy said he enjoys teaching and aiding the BSU, but he sees more research in his future.


“I am known on campus for a lot of teaching, which is correct and good, but I’ve gotten this honor for the research and I want to focus on that more. I wrote about cultural criticism of African-American literature and culture, and I finished my second book a year or two ago,” Rambsy said. “My next thing is book three, and I’m trying to write it a bit slower than before.”


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